How to win a hackathon in seven steps

Peter Marks | SmartCompany

In a hackathon, a group comes together with a fixed amount of time, a lot of caffeine, and a shared goal to build something or solve a problem.

By the end of it all, they need to prove results with a demonstrable minimum viable product (MVP).

Read more: What is a hackathon?

Here’s seven themes we see from winning teams.

1. Form the right team using variety

While it’s natural to gravitate towards those you share the most in common with, the key to assembling the right hackathon group is in getting a variety of skills. 

Include things like data analysis, programming, graphic design and storytelling.

Diverse skills will get you the best results, and a wonderful side-effect is seeing others do things that you couldn’t or wouldn’t have done, and vice versa. It’s great to say, “wow, I couldn’t do that”, and hear the same said back to you.

Dominic Astley, from 2016 GovHack prize-winning team ‘Cylindrical Books’ explains:

“We had a team of six people; three or four people who were mainly dedicated to the software development side of things, one dedicated to the graphic design, and another dedicated to doing the video.”.

It’s still important to identify common interests and values though, such as social justice, the environment, health or a new technology.

2. Finding an idea

Using publicly available data, such as the government data that is made available through events like GovHack, can be one way to uncover a winning idea.

This data is available from, so it could be worth taking a look to see what’s new and what catches your imagination. Many past GovHack winners “mash up” data from disparate sources, but that isn’t always the case.

Harry Smithes of 2016 prize-winning team “Four planners and a panda” said:

“We just decided which challenges we were going to go for based on what we liked and what we thought we could do well on and which data looked cool”.

Topics that are on the national agenda can inspire interesting new solutions, bringing together data and software technologies in winning ways.

It’s also worth reviewing prize categories, as sponsors often offer great prizes for use of particular data or tools that they’d like to see used creatively.

Brainstorming, where the team can freely express ideas without fear of rejection or criticism, is a great way to get ideas flowing.

Try to avoid switching to the critical-thinking ‘editing mode’ until the new ideas are starting to dry up. 

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Source: How to win a hackathon in seven steps